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Eric, Marc Staal decline to wear Panthers' Pride jersey

Eliot J. Schechter / National Hockey League / Getty

Florida Panthers veterans Eric and Marc Staal didn't participate in warmups Thursday as the team donned a Pride-themed jersey prior to the 6-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The brothers said they didn't wear the jersey due to their Christian beliefs.

"After many thoughts, prayers, and discussions, we have chosen not to wear a Pride jersey tonight," the duo said in a joint statement, according to The Associated Press' Tim Reynolds. "We carry no judgment on how people choose to live their lives and believe that all people should be welcome in all aspects of the game of hockey.

"Having said that, we feel that by us wearing a Pride jersey, it goes against our Christian beliefs," the statement continues. "We hope you can respect this statement, we will not be speaking any further on this matter and would like to continue to focus on the game and helping the Florida Panthers win the Stanley Cup."

The Staal brothers' decision comes days after San Jose Sharks goaltender James Reimer declined to wear his team's Pride-themed warmup jersey.

Following the game, Eric said he wanted to stick with their statement and move forward, while Marc was not made available to the media. Panthers head coach Paul Maurice defended the decision of his players, saying the focus should be on the rest of the team instead.

“My thought is the story is not about them,” Maurice said, according to the Associated Press. “The story is about the rest of the group being excited, the organization and the fans being excited to celebrate a great night. These are grown men who have lived in their faith their whole lives. This is not new to them. They have the right to take that stand. The rest of the players wore that sweater proudly and I hope we conveyed that message of ‘Welcome to our building, welcome to our franchise and welcome to the great game of hockey.’”

Eric is the NHL's active games-played leader with 1,354 contests. The 38-year-old has 13 goals and 25 points this season.

Marc has played in all 71 of the Panthers' games this campaign, tallying 12 points.

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